A leather jacket is to your wardrobe what a Beyoncé track is to your workout: critical. Whether it’s a classic black moto, an embellished bomber, or a colorful trench, the piece is a staple no matter your style. (I mean, there’s a reason everyone gets so excited about leather weather.)
They do require a little more TLC than the rest of your outerwear wardrobe, however. You can’t just toss one in the wash and hope it’ll come out looking fresh and new (seriously, don’t do that). To find out how to clean your leather jacket the right way, we talked to Jess Cambronero, design director of VEDA, the brand behind some of the best leather jackets (and dresses, and pants) in the game, and culled from our own experiences so you can learn from our mistakes.
1. Remember that prevention is always better than a cure.
If your jacket is still brand new and unworn, make sure you protect your investment before wearing it out. Think about it—you wouldn’t drive an uninsured car, right?
“A leather or suede protectant spray is important to protect your garment or shoes from water and rain,” says Cambronero. “Kiwi Protect-all is a good option, but always spot test first to make sure the spray doesn’t cause any damage or discoloration!” For this, pick somewhere inconspicuous like under the arm or lapel.
If it’s too late and the water-damage is done, skip this for now and circle back to step one at the end of your process. Also, check the label and see how long the protectant spray lasts—it doesn’t hurt to reapply every few weeks or months.
2. Let water stains dry naturally.
If you accidentally get caught in the rain or spill some water on yourself, don’t throw your leather or suede jacket in the dryer or try to spot-dry with a hair-dryer, as the direct heat will damage the natural material. Instead, we recommend you hang the damp piece somewhere with plenty of light and airflow to let it dry on its own.
3. Use alcohol to remove ink stains.
Have you ever dropped a black pen on the sleeve of your new cream leather jacket? Take it from us: it’s not fun. Plain old rubbing alcohol (also called Isopropyl alcohol if you’re looking for it in the store) should help remove ink stains from smooth leather—but don’t try this on suede, which is best left for a professional dry cleaner.
Use a white cotton cloth (nothing colored, as the dye may run) soaked with alcohol and blot the stain gently until the ink has faded. Be careful here: scrubbing too hard could cause fading.
4. Apply a leather conditioner to older leathers.
Leather conditioner (like hair conditioner) is meant to soften and protect—but it’s not always a necessary step for brand-new jackets, which are usually made from soft, thin leather. However, says Cambronero, “For a very sturdy and stiff leather (think vintage motos) a leather conditioner would help to keep it soft.” It’s not only a tactile thing, either: conditioner prevents leather from cracking and breaking down over time.
5. Know when to call in the pros.
Stains, major weather damage, and longterm wear-and-tear are usually best handled by professional leather cleaners—and if you have an item that’s suede, light-colored, or specially treated (think faux-croc, hand-painted, or anything along those lines), you may want to take it in to be safe.
6. Don’t sweat it.
“I think it’s best to clean a jacket only when necessary,” says Cambronero. “Leather looks better with a lived-in look.” So those rain marks you’re stressing about? Think of them as signs you found a jacket you really love.